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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 10, 2004

Park rangers lure gay men into breaking the law, former officer says

Five are jailed for cruising in state park near Dayton

Lebanon, Ohio--An undercover sting operation by park rangers has snared14 men cruising at Caesar Creek State Park, sending five of them to jail. Critics of the law enforcement method the rangers used suspect “police misconduct.” These include a gay former park officer who protested the methods while he was on the force.

The operation was conducted by Ohio Department of Natural Resources officers October 26 to 28 at the Fifty Springs picnic area of the park, which is located in Warren County southeast of Dayton.

The men, ages 31 to 79, were arrested and charged with public indecency, a fourth degree misdemeanor, and in one case, an additional charge of sexual imposition.

Among those arrested, five pleaded no contest at their November 4 arraignments before Judge James J. Heath of the Warren County Court. One didn’t appear and now faces an arrest warrant. The rest have hired attorneys and are fighting the charges.

Four of the five sentenced received $250 fines and were required to pay $85 court costs, 30 days in jail with 25 of them suspended, 40 hours of community service, and three years of probation costing an additional $150.

The fifth had a prior conviction for public indecency, so his fines and jail time were doubled.

The operation was carried out by officers Daniel C. Cox, Keith G. Peterson, Tim Carr and John Patrick.

The sexual imposition charge was added to one case where the accused was allegedly “performing an oral sexual technique” on another man when Cox walked up to them.

According to the police report, the man called Cox over and began touching him around his genitals, then offering to “suck” the undercover officer.

Police misconduct alleged

Retired ODNR officer Mark Shrader, who is openly gay, says there are some arrests in parks and other cruising places that are justified, and others that are not.

Shrader said he nearly lost his job in 1991 when the department questioned his loyalty for protesting the tactics planned for use in a park.

“I caught wind of the misconduct, and told them I would do what I could to stop the nonsense,” said Shrader.

Shrader said undercover operations are appropriate if the problem and the targets are clearly defined, adding that most of the time, neither are.

“The plainclothes cop should emulate an ordinary straight Joe,” said Shrader.

“I have no problem with sending an officer out to drop a fishing line in a lake and just look around,” said Shrader, “but the cops should not pose as though they want it.”

“I was hoping that with the repeal of the importuning law that police misconduct would be reduced,” said Shrader, “but now they use things like disorderly conduct and public indecency as an importuning substitute.”

Ohio’s importuning law, which made it a crime to ask someone of the same sex for sex, was struck down by the state supreme court in 2002.

“It’s possible to bait people into conduct they wouldn’t otherwise do,” said Shrader, “It’s possible to lead someone to expose themselves if the officer leads them to believe that’s what they want to see.”

Entrapment method described

Shrader described a typical undercover sting operation as one where an officer, usually young, dresses and poses as “gay,” then goes out to flirt with the men. Sometimes, according to Shrader, the undercover officers engage the men in “chit chat” which is sexual in nature, and then encourage them to expose their genitals or engage in oral sex.

If the officer gets any kind of positive response, the man is immediately arrested.

Shrader said the public indecency charges are often dubious, too, because they require someone to be affronted by the behavior.

“If they pose as though they want it,’ said Shrader, “how can they then claim to be affronted? If no one sees sexual activity, it is not a crime.”

A review of the police reports in this operation indicates that with the exception of the incident where the officer allegedly walked onto two men engaging in oral sex and charged one with sexual imposition for asking the officer to join them, the rest of the arrests were like Shrader describes.

Park can’t produce any complaints

Assistant Park Manager Alan Ferguson said the operation was prompted by complaints of naked people running around and of people being approached and propositioned by the men.

Ferguson said there have been 10 to 15 such complaints “in the past couple months” and that some were in writing.

However, he failed to produce a single complaint, despite numerous requests by this reporter.

Ferguson said all the officers involved in the operation were “well trained” and take training on this sort of operation annually.

Ferguson said the officers in this operation “were a little more active,” which he explained meant that they made contact with the men and engaged them in conversation before arresting them.

According to Ferguson, prior attempts by undercover officers being less aggressive failed at this park, because, “the men seem to know when we’re there, so there is no deterrent to activity.”

Shrader said, “They will accept as a complaint anything that has to do with the appearance of homosexuality.”

“But some cruising activity is okay, as the parks belong to everyone and everyone has the right to socialize there,” said Shrader. “They aren’t defining their target or the behavior that really is a crime.”

Ranger asked to see man’s genitals

One of the men who pleaded no contest and was sentenced spoke with the Gay People’s Chronicle. He asked that his name not be used.

“I was parked there first, and was the only car in the lot,” he said. “Then a van pulled up, and a man who turned out to be a cop got out and walked past my car. He went to go stand at the shelter house.”

“After about five minutes, I got out and walked toward him. He asked me first what I was looking for, and he suggested we walk down the path into an area covered by trees,” he said.

Officer Tim Carr’s arrest report says that during that time he and the man talked about “what type of activity that each one of us engages in pursuant to sexual activity.”

The convicted man said he followed Carr to a fallen log away from anyone’s view, where Carr sat down and became more aggressive with him.

Carr’s report confirms that he led the man to the log, but omits details about what happened next.

The man said once Carr was seated on the log, “he wanted to know what I was into, and he wanted me to show him my dick.”

The man said Carr made the request repeatedly.

“His head was eye level with my crotch,” said the man. “There was no question he was supposed to give me head.”

Carr’s report says the man “removed his penis from his pants and began to engage in masturbation” before he identified himself as an officer and made the arrest.

Asked why, given the circumstances, the man did not fight the charges, he said, “I’m not out. I don’t want anyone to find out about it, especially my girlfriend.”

‘Officers often create the crime’

Dayton attorney Larry Denny, who defends men arrested in parks and theaters for public indecency, said the arrests themselves are often made for the purpose of claiming that the area is a nuisance.

“The officers often create the crime,” said Denny. “I have seen more targeting of these areas when things get slow on DUIs, drugs, and domestic violence.”

Denny said it often costs $1,000 to $2,500 to defend these cases at trial, and up to $7,500 if the case is appealed.

“For some who might lose their job or their pension because of it, it isn’t too much to spend,” said Denny.

Denny said the men are often entrapped by officers who “portray themselves as willing volunteers for a consensual act that is not illegal, who lead the men to a place where it may be illegal, but only if there is a public display.”

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund has a downloadable legal guide for men who cruise at www.lambdalegal.org.

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